On Tuesday morning, Lakers head coach Byron Scott asked a group of 9th and 10th grade boys at Compton’s Centennial High how many of them expected to be professional athletes.
Nearly 50 hands – well over a fourth of the entire group – shot up.
Scott shook his head: “You’ll be lucky if one of you makes it.”
The Inglewood native who went to school six miles away at Morningside High wasn’t trying to crush any games, but to inspire a more proven path of success: education.
“You have a better opportunity to be the next (President) Obama than the next LeBron.”
Of course, Scott’s message to his new players in a few weeks will be much different, but no less direct.
Now at his dream job, Scott feels a personal responsibility to return the Lakers to greatness, a process that he knows won’t happen overnight, but must start in this fall’s training camp. We spoke to Scott about his planned systems on offense and defense, went into detail about his 17-year relationship with Kobe Bryant, discussed the personnel on his roster and more in an extended Q&A.
Below is a transcription of the conversation:
Mike Trudell: What you’re about to put in on offense and defense will be the third different set of systems for the Lakers in the last three preseasons. Many of the players are different, too, but it seems a big disadvantage against teams like San Antonio, OKC or the Clippers, who’ve had consistency in coaching and roster.
Byron Scott: Yes, and that matters, because you want to try and form an identity on both ends of the floor. From an offensive standpoint, there are some things that I think we can do that will be very beneficial to a lot of guys on this team. And then there are some classic NBA sets that everybody runs as well. I want a mixture of some of what I’ve done in the past, which is the Princeton offense, along with traditional NBA sets. We won’t put too much in too early, because I want guys to get used to what we’re doing, and try to wait before we start to implement stuff on the offensive end. Defensively, we’ll start to work from day one, because that’s something we have to get better at right away, and we will.
MT: You watched the majority of Lakers games next to host Chris McGee and fellow analyst/former teammate James Worthy last season on Time Warner Cable SportsNet. Now, (former coach) Mike D’Antoni didn’t have championship-caliber talent, and lost an absurd 319 games due to injury. Yet and still, what did you take from watching the games that could be improved upon defensively regardless of talent?
Scott: Defensive philosophy has to be constant. This is no knock on Mike at all, but there were games where they were playing defense one way, and other games where they played it differently. When I go into the season, there are three ways we’re going to guard side pick and rolls, for example: we’re going to down it, hard show, or red it (trap). If you do it from day one, guys get better at it because they’re working on it every day in practice. I want to establish those things day-to-day, and if you do that, it takes a lot of the thinking away and gets back to reacting.
MT: You can play defense differently if you have a rim protector that you don’t really have on the currently shaped roster.
Scott: We’ll have a plan, but it will depend some on how guys play in training camp. With that said, we can't force everything defensively to (Jordan) Hill or (Carlos) Boozer, so we'll focus more on forcing guys to certain places and corral them instead of trying to block shots. What I see during the first few days of practice will make an impact there, so we can have an identity on that end of the floor.
MT: How do you specifically play screen/roll differently with a team that doesn’t have a true rim protector?
Scott: You’re going to have to play a lot of help the helper to keep the ball from getting into the paint. That’s a lot of rotations, a lot of help, a lot of stunt and recover, where the guy with the ball sees one-and-a-half or two defenders every single time. You want to clog up the paint as much as possible and make the opponent take contested jump shots.
MT: You just came off the floor from a workout with No. 7 overall pick Julius Randle. What have you seen from him so far in this gym?
Scott: I see a young man that's raw, but he has great feet and great quickness for his size, and he's strong as a bull. You can tell that he wants to get better. Next week we’ll have a better idea, because he’ll be in better shape and be able to work even harder. But I love those attributes, being strong, big and quick for his size. That’s a very good combination to have.
MT: Nobody at summer league could defend the Texas native 1-on-1, which you’d expect. He likes to face guys up from about 15 feet and drive by them, as he did consistently in Vegas, but has said he’s also comfortable posting guys up. How much influence do you want to have on his game, as opposed to letting it happen?
Scott: The one thing I’ve seen is that Julius can do both. He doesn’t mind banging in the post, but he’s also capable facing up from 15 feet and either going around someone or pulling up. Having that type of versatility is only going to make him better, especially with some of the things I want to do on offense.
MT: How do you account for a rookie like Randle that needs playing time to develop, when a guys like Boozer and Hill may have an edge based on their NBA experience in helping you win right way? Sort of a macro vs. micro look?
Scott: They can play together, because we're going to be small no matter what without a true center. Now, there aren’t many true centers in the whole league. But Julius will get plenty of chances to play a lot of minutes. We know he’s a rookie and needs to develop, and a lot of that will come in training camp and in practice. I think he’ll do just that.
MT: How do you like to practice …
Scott: (Interjects, laughing) Hard. But it’s a balance. You have to understand your players, be able to read them and what they need. I will very rarely practice after a back to back, for example. Or if we have three days before a game, that will dictate how we practice to make sure guys are getting the rest they need.
MT: It depends how we define the term, but are you a player’s coach?
Scott: I think I am a player's coach. I like to give my players a lot of freedom, especially offensively. Defensively, I’m pretty demanding because I want it done a certain way and I want guys to compete every night and get after people. If we defend and rebound the floor, we get to run up the floor, and that’s the fun part. I want guys to have that freedom for the fun part … within the system, of course. But I do think I’m a player’s coach because I've been there myself playing at a high level. I understand that your body gets tired and you need to be away from the gym. I try to take it all into consideration, remembering how hard it is from my playing days.
MT: Are you almost done putting your staff together?
Scott: Hopefully we will figure out the staff by the end of this week. Obviously (GM) Mitch (Kupchak) has to get everybody signed and things like that.
MT: By the way, your son Thomas has worked in various capacities on your staffs in New Orleans and Cleveland, and was an assistant coach with the D-Fenders last season. I know you’d love to have him involved here on your staff once again…
Scott: The one thing with Thomas is I've always had a dream of having him on my bench as one of my coaches. He told me recently that it's a dream of his as well. It’s really cool to be able to have all the time we spent together in New Orleans and in Cleveland and now here back in L.A. For him to continuously grow as a coach and get to the next level is important to him, and I’m really proud of his development and of the fact that he wants to be on my staff. But the thing I love about him is that he hasn’t been given anything. He’s earned all of this by working his butt off.
MT: How will your relationship with Kobe, going back to his rookie year and your final year as a player in 1996-97, translate into this coach-player relationship?
Scott: At the end of the day, I think this relationship is only going to get stronger for the next two years … and I think Kobe could keep playing after that if he wants to. But we talked last week, and one thing I talked to him about was that I'm going to lean on him a lot. His experience, his knowledge – that tenacity and drive he possesses is what I have, but he’s on the floor and can feel and see a lot that I don't see from the sideline. I’d be stupid not to listen.
MT: So you want to empower him more than rein him in?
Scott: I’m not going to shy away from that at all, because I have that much respect for him. I care about him that much. I’ve known him for 17 years, and I know what kind of player and person he is. He knows me as well. He knows he can come up to me and tell me anything, just like I can go to him and say, ‘Kobe, no, that’s not what we’re going to do. Let’s do it this way.’ I think because of the mutual respect we have, the relationship is going to get even stronger. I think Kobe respects my opinion and my experience in this game and in this league. I’ve been in this league for 30 plus years as a player and a coach. We feel the same way about this roster that we have. We know a lot of people aren’t going to give us a chance, but we feel we’re going to surprise a lot of people.
MT: Kobe has made himself into, at worst, the second best shooting guard in NBA history, with only Michael Jordan to look up at. How would you describe the evolution of the position you played into Jordan and Bryant?
Scott: When I played, a lot of two guards weren't posting up. Many were catch-and-shoot guys that would take it to the basket with one or two dribbles. They didn't really create like Jordan and Kobe did for themselves or their teammates. A lot of the things that I did were created for me off of pin downs, or Magic (Johnson) getting into the paint and drawing my man, so that I could catch it and go by him while he’s running out. It’s evolved into a two guard with point guard skills. Watching MJ do it over the years, and now Kobe, I think both of those guys have revolutionized the position. Kobe would probably tell you that he’s not on MJ’s level because he doesn’t have six rings. It’s all about the championship rings to him.
MT: I’m guessing he challenged you to a game or two of 1-on-1 during your year together, yeah?
Scott: Oh yeah.
MT: What separates him when you’re trying to guard him?
Scott: His footwork is some of the best that you'll ever see. That's one of the things that really does separate him. And the fact that he can go either way, shoot it with either hand … he just has no weaknesses with his offensive game. The way he spaces the floor, how he can get to the spots he wants to. Sometimes when I game planned for him when I was in New Orleans, it was just: ‘OK guys he's going to get his 30, 40, or 50 and we can’t do anything about that, so let's just stop everyone else.’ If you double-team him, now he’s getting everyone else involved and they get hot, and if you stop doubling him, he’s going to score.
MT: Any memories stand out from when you used to play after practice?
Scott: We used to play a game called knock out. It’s four or five guys, and if you score, the next man comes in and defends you, so on. We just went at it. The one thing I loved about Kobe is that at 18 years old, he never backed down from anybody. He was raring to go. He wanted the challenge. At 18, the way he came at us, it was almost disrespectful. Who is this kid? But when you finish, you say, this kid has a lot of you know what. Basically, he earns your respect. Just the way he came at you.
MT: Anything else that you remember about that year with Kobe as your teammate?
Scott: He and I just talked a lot. I got to know him so well, that I thought he was the most mature 18-year-old I'd seen in my life. He had an idea of what he wanted to be and accomplish at 18, and he was able to do that. I remember sitting in the front row at the Forum, we'd just had practice, and I'm talking to him and I said: 'Showboat*, what do you want to do in this league.' He said, 'B I want to be the best player in the NBA.' I could see that he was dead serious. And I told him, ‘As hard as you work, you will be.’ And for a long time, he was the best.
*Scott said “Showboat” was Bryant’s nickname at the time.
MT: You’d seen that greatness, of course, on some of the best teams in NBA history with Showtime alongside Magic, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Worthy and so on...
Scott: Exactly, I'd seen that before. Magic instilled it in me, and so did Kareem, James and Coop (Michael Cooper). All of us felt like there was nothing we couldn’t do on the basketball floor. That’s the same belief that Kobe has.
MT: Making no comparison to Kobe, what kind of competitiveness do you see in Randle?
Scott: I'm still getting a sense, but I do think he has a fire in his belly. But I won't get a true sense until training camp when everybody is here how deep that fire is.
MT: To run the team, you have Jeremy Lin, and a question mark health wise in Steve Nash.
Scott: With Nash, it’s going to be interesting. Steve hasn’t played a lot in the last year, and the clock is ticking. I did see him working out here a couple of days ago and he looked fantastic. He says he's pain free for the first time in a while, and hopefully he'll be healthy, number one, and hopefully he’ll be able to provide some things for us on the offensive end especially.
Jeremy is a guy who I like. I coached against him, and I love that he's not afraid of the moment. He doesn’t mind taking big shots, and he’s very gritty, tough and intelligent. Those are all things I think will fit well with things we’re trying to do.
MT: The Lakers haven’t had a break-you-down-off-the-dribble point guard in some time, but Lin can do that; he gets to the paint better than most guys in the NBA. How do you account for that on offense?
Scott: I love that. He’s a triple threat type of player, and can be very effective out of pick and rolls as a result. He can shoot, finish at the rim or make plays for other guys. We also have Kobe that can do that, Steve if healthy can still do that, and Swaggy P (Nick Young) can get his shot at any time. When you have three or four guys that can get shots for themselves or their teammates, that makes us better as a team.
MT: Rookie Jordan Clarkson played really well in summer league, if mostly looking for his own shot as opposed to playing like a “classic” point guard. Your thoughts on what you’ve seen?
Scott: We play two guards, two forwards and a center, not necessarily making everyone do different things. Both guards should be able to run the offense, make things happen on the strong or the weak side. You just have to play basketball. Clarkson I think can do that. He’s a rookie and will make some mistakes, but I loved what I saw in the summer league from Clarkson. His athleticism and length, which will help him on defense, and the way he pushes the ball up the floor … I really liked what I saw.
MT: The expectation of this franchise, and the fan base, is that the Lakers will compete for championships and nothing else. Now, heading into this season, that’s unrealistic based on the talent other teams in the West have. I know it’s a roster made to be as good as possible this year while keeping the flexibility in the roster to bring another max level star here. How do you reconcile that contrast?
Scott: I know it's going to be a tough road, but when I start training camp, the first thing I’m going to tell our guys is that that our goal is to win the championship. I want them thinking that way from day one. People aren’t picking us to make the playoffs, sure, but that’s not how we’re going to approach it. We have to change the mindset. I know it may take a year or two, and I think Kobe knows that, but he already has that championship mindset. It's not hard to convince him. Convincing everyone else is the biggest trick we have to do, but that’s how we have to do it.
MT: You don’t have much experience on the wing next to Kobe in a potential starting line up, with Wesley Johnson and Xavier Henry being the options assuming you like Swaggy P coming off the bench as a scorer. What has to happen in that position?
Scott: I think Wesley has not played to his potential at all. He's shown signs, but I think the kid is so talented, I'm really hoping it can be a break out year for him. Now, obviously, he has to come to camp and win that spot, and that's on him. Or I could also put Kobe at that spot and put Steve next to Jeremy in the backcourt. There’s some flexibility there. But I've always been intrigued with Wesley, and I thought Xavier was excellent until he got hurt last year. But when you include Kobe and Swaggy, the wing is probably our strongest position.
MT: Nick Young really did exceed expectations last season, averaging 17.9 points per game mostly off the bench, never quitting, at least working hard on defense. I know you like Swaggy P.
Scott: I liked how he played and how he was giving full effort on the defensive end, and I really love his energy. He cared about winning. He changed his whole persona, what people thought of him. I’d never seen him play defense before. I also saw him being unselfish at times where he made passes. I do love Swaggy coming off the bench.
MT: And you’ll likely use him as the sixth man?
Scott: Probably. He will play together with Kobe as well, but I do love his energy and firepower being able to score the ball off the bench.
MT: You have lots of options to mix and match guys in the frontcourt, with Hill, Boozer, Randle, Ed Davis and even Ryan Kelly in a stretch four role or Robert Sacre in a defensive center in big match ups. I assume training camp will iron much of it out?
Scott: We have time to work that out, mix and match it up, see who plays better together. I think that will be fun. Let them compete. But I do think Boozer might be better with Julius just because he's a veteran guy and is talkative out there and could help him. But Jordan could too. Ed Davis is a guy that could be in that mix, so we have a lot of guys that will be fighting. He’s been known to block some shots, and won’t be a bad guy in there on the weak side to come over and help. He’s been in here most every day working out, has been really serious about it.
MT: Anything else you want Randle to get accomplished before camp starts?
Scott: We’re been working on his post game and face up game, but the biggest thing is to get him in shape. As a rookie, you don’t want to come into training camp out of shape. Then the season is halfway over by the time you get acclimated. We want him to get in great shape right now, and then he can start learning the system on both ends of the floor. We're already putting him through a lot of defensive things right now to get him going.